Greg Frank breaks down upcoming college football season

Greg Frank breaks down upcoming college football season

With the college football season right around the corner, now is probably a good time to scope out the nation’s best and get an idea of who might be hoisting the coach’s trophy in January.

1. USC: With 2012 being a season in which the Trojans become postseason eligible again, as they try to erase the bad memories of the Reggie Bush vacated Heisman saga, a National Championship is well within reach for this team. Of course the decision of Heisman hopeful and quarterback Matt Barkley to stay in school was huge, as was the same decision for safety T.J. McDonald, and with the recent addition of Penn State transfer running back Silas Redd to an already loaded roster with 15 returning starters, the power that is USC is back.

2. Alabama: Though they had a bunch of players hear their names called in the first round of the NFL Draft, recruiting has never been a problem for a team that is almost always battling for SEC supremacy. Senior running back Eddie Lacy will step in to replace Trent Richardson though freshmen T.J. Yeldon may see significant time in the backfield as the season goes on. Defensively another senior, strong safety Robert Lester, takes on a bigger role in the secondary with the departure of Mark Barron and C.J. Mosley becomes the feature linebacker with Donta Hightowter gone to the NFL as well. With a retooled defense that may struggle early on, expect the Crimson Tide to hit stride in November and make a run at their third title in four years.

3. Oregon: Like or hate the fact that they’re always getting new uniforms, the guys wearing Nike’s bold fashion statements sure can play. Head coach Chip Kelly is entering his fourth season on the Ducks sideline and if it’s a mirror image of the previous three, then Oregon may be in for big things. Under Kelly the Ducks have made it to a BCS bowl game all three years, losing the first two to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl and Auburn in the National Championship but breaking through last year by defeating Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. They should continue to dominate in conference, having only lost two Pac 12 games in Kelly’s previous three seasons. De’Anthony Thomas has a chance to be the next big thing in Oregon’s backfield with LaMichael James in the NFL, and Kenjon Barner is a very good complement to Thomas. Expect freshman defensive end Arik Armstead to spend a lot of time in the opponent’s backfield as well as Dion Jordan, who is the perfect hybrid player for Oregon’s 3-4 defense. A November 3rd date at USC will be a big challenge for Oregon and a chance for us to see if they’re a national title contender.

4. LSU: We’ll start on the defensive side of the ball with LSU since Heisman finalist Tyrann Matheiu will not be playing for the Tigers in 2012. This loss hurts a defense that was ranked top five nationally in four categories last year. That said, with 280-pound defensive end Sam Montgomery entering his junior year coming off a nine-sack year in 2011, and another junior Barkevious Mingo, who had 15 tackles for a loss last season, also a hybrid type pass rusher, their defense should continue to wreak havoc. Offensively LSU didn’t rank as highly last year, 86th in yards per game and 106th in passing yards per game, and they’ll welcome a new quarterback to Baton Rouge as transfer Zach Mettenberger comes to the FBS from Butler Community College. He’ll have to make some big throws and put up some crazy numbers on the scoreboard to help the defense, which did take a step down from last year, for LSU to remain a National Championship contender. That said, being the second best team in the SEC means you’re always in the mix.

5. Wisconsin: Having been in the Rose Bowl the last two years under seventh-year head coach Bert Bielema, and though Michigan and Michigan State may also wind up ahead of them, I expect Wisconsin to win the Big 10 regular season title. Montee Ball is the only Heisman finalist returning to the same school that he played for last year and I expect another Heisman-caliber year for Ball. Losing Russell Wilson hurts, though Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien will step in with the big 6’4’’ 242-pounder Jacob Pederson, and 6’2’’ 180-pound wide receiver and speedster Jared Abbrederis to throw the rock to, so along with Ball, the Badgers should score a lot. Abbrederis is also a threat in the return game, as he will return punts and kickoffs this year for the Badgers. Defensively they get back David Gilbert, who had three sacks in four games before a broken right foot stopped him from playing on. Junior linebacker Chris Borland returns this season after finishing second in tackles in the Big Ten last year and he’ll have to lead a defense that must be as good as the offense is for Wisconsin to be in the National title talk.

6. Oklahoma: The first Big 12 team to find my top ten, the Sooners will almost certainly continue to score in boatloads. Their explosive offense last season finished fifth in the nation in yards per game, averaging over 500, and their passing offense was also fifth in passing yards per game led by senior quarterback Landry Jones. Coach of 14 years Bob Stoops has recently guided the program to a National Championship game in 2008 and a Fiesta Bowl victory in 2010. They, too, have a swift and speedy junior wide receiver in 6’1’’ 190-pounder Kenny Stills. They also bring in high-rated recruit Tery Metoyer to be another playmaking receiver, which is much needed with the departure of NCAA career receptions leader Ryan Broyles. On the other side of the ball senior defense tackle Jamarkus McFarland looks to make Big 12 running backs cringe when they get the ball against the Sooners, as he’ll be flanked by R.J. Washington, who’s waited his turn to become a starting defensive end, Now that elite pass rushers Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis have left Norman, Washington gets a chance to start. Demontre Hurst and Tony Jefferson are two impact players in the secondary, both returning this year for the Sooners two of the eight returning starts on the defense. Look for Oklahoma to win the Big 12 this year.

7. South Carolina: Trapped in mediocrity due to the abundance of depth in the SEC, the Gamecocks appear to be on the rise after finishing 9th in the 2011 final AP poll last year. When it comes to South Carolina, all roads lead to Marcus Lattimore. The junior running back finished last season with over 800 rushing yards and 10 TDs. Weighing in at 218 pounds he’s a bruising downhill straight ahead runner who I think has a chance to be a Heisman finalist this year. Junior quarterback Connor Shaw returns coming off a 1,448 yard season in which he threw 14 touchdowns to only six picks. Of course it helps to have Alshon Jeffery to throw the ball to. Junior receiver Ace Sanders steps in as the primary target. Another short speedster, Sanders is listed at 5’8’’ 175 and he’ll be the focal point of the passing game for the Gamecocks. Defensively, Jadeveon Clowney, the nation’s top recruit in 2011, now enters his second season in Columbia, coming off a freshman year in which he recorded eight sacks and forced five fumbles in limited snaps as it took him some time to get acclimated to the defensive playbook. There shouldn’t be any limits on him this year and he should strike fear into all offensive lines around the SEC. Along with Clowney, South Carolina’s defense features seniors Devin Taylor and D.J. Swearinger. Taylor, a big defensive end, should spend time in opponent’s backfields as much as Clowney does and Swearinger should be the capitan of the secondary whose pass defense finished second in the nation last year giving up 131.7 passing yards a game. South Carolina should give LSU and Alabama some good competition in the SEC.

8. Georgia: If it surprises you that half of my top eight is SEC teams, then you’ve probably been living in a hole the last six years. Alabama, Auburn, Alabama, Florida, LSU, Florida are the last six National Champions for those unaware. Aaron Murray enters his junior season coming off a monster sophomore year throwing for 3,149 yards and 35 TDs. He’ll look to Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell to make plays in the vertical passing game for him to have a similar season. If Georgia can put together video-game like offensive performances, they have a chance to contend this year as they had a lead on LSU last year in the SEC Championship game. Defensively Georiga is another 3-4 team and big nose guard John Jenkins and all 351 pounds of him will try to bull rush right through SEC centers. The linebackers are led by junior Jarvis Jones and back in the secondary Georgia returns free safety Bacarri Rambo. These are three of the ten returning starters to what should be a stout defensive unit.

9. West Virginia: Speaking of Heisman candidates, West Virginia has a quarterback named Geno Smith. Back in the days when they ran the spread with Pat White and Steve Slaton, I think this offense will score at a similar rate. I’ve thrown out lots of numbers in here, but I think Geno Smith’s 4,385 yards and 31 TDs are last season are only telling me more of the same in Smith’s last season in blue and gold. If you watched the Orange Bowl last year, you’d know what I mean when I say West Virginia’s going to score a lot of points. For those that missed it….West Virginia 70 Clemson 33 final score. Defensively, like most of the nation’s best schools, West Virginia is installing the 3-4 scheme with senior Jorge Wright playing nose guard. Considering West Virginia’s defense was nothing special last year, maybe this is a good idea.

10. Michigan State: Sparty rounds out my top 10. Losing a winner like Kirk Cousins hurts, but senior Andrew Maxwell will get a year to be the guy in East Lansing. Only 52 yards shy of 1,000 last year, Le’Veon Bell returns as the feature back for Michigan State. He may not be Javon Ringer, but I think he’ll eclipse the 1,000 yard mark this season. With only four returning starters last season, Maxwell’s role especially will be key for Michigan State to score. On the other side they return eight defensive players. Defensive end William Gholston leads the Sparty defense. Last name sound familiar? Well, that’s because William’s cousin Vernon also spent time in the Big Ten playing defensive end for Ohio State. William made the Second-Team All-Big Ten roster last year as a sophomore and will be one of the nation’s best defensive ends this year. He’ll look to lead the rest of the defense to improve even more despite finishing sixth last season in total defense. Michigan State should give Wisconsin a run in the Big Ten and keep an eye on Michigan too.

I look forward to a fun year of college football and lots of “NOT SO FAST”s from Lee Corso on Gameday every Saturday morning and I hope you do too.